How to Write Emails that Get Opened

You've done it.  Me too.  You send an email and put a lot of thought into its content and then you wait.

And wait. 

And wait... until the person on the other end responds.  

The longer you wait, the more you get frustrated.  The more you get frustrated, the weaker your relationship with the person on the other end.   

Email, once a way for people to draw closer together, has become a ubiquitous mode of communication. Everyone with a smartphone gets their email on the go and everyone I know has at least two email addresses.

We did a survey a few years ago at work which confirmed what we had thought- everyone is checking email but few are using it productively. 

The Problem with Email 

How many emails are in your inbox right now?  If it's more than one screen worth, there may be a problem.  My garage is like that- there is too much stuff in it and as a result, I not only don't want to go in there but I've forgotten what's in the back corners.  I'm not stewarding it very well which is my bad.

  • Once email populates in your inbox beyond what you can handle, it's like that messy garage and you'll probably avoid it.  
  • Additionally, too much email conditions us to think that a messy inbox (like a messy garage) is the norm.  It doesn't have to be. 
  • Finally, email can be a problem when people check it sporadically.  Imagine if you called someone on the phone and they only picked it up every other day?  Or only once a week?  That's how many people tackle email. 

How to Write Emails that Get Opened 

So how do you write emails that get opened?  I learned a key lesson in this from one of our basketball coaches.  As someone who runs a successful business when he's not coaching, he gets flooded with hundreds of emails per day.  This guy knows how to cut through the crowd and get an email read!   

His ninja trick is this: in the header line, he will write "Conference call this week / IMPORTANT".  The use of IMPORTANT really makes a difference in the subject line without being annoying.  I always open the email and I've started doing it myself.  Not for every email but for the ones that are super important and must get read.  

One way not to get an email opened is to require a "read receipt".  I find these very annoying and don't recommend them.   

Want an additional trick for getting an email opened?  Be brief and stick to just one topic.  Like a neighbor who lives in the house next door, if she talks for half an hour every time you see her, you might start to avoid her altogether. People will start to do this with your email if you are long-winded or cover multiple topics in each email.  

Email is here to stay.  It's imperfect, to be sure, but with the tricks outlined above, you'll be more likely to get certain emails opened and get your most important work done.  

What tips do you have for getting more emails opened?

Photo courtesy of FDP